To say that Lorna Buckley loves dogs would be the understatement of the decade. This Brit expat is a former dressage rider who gave up riding after a serious accident and now devotes her time, energy and resources to the forgotten, injured and unloved dogs of Azerbaijan. ‘My home is always in chaos, my wallet is always empty but my heart is always full’, she says. Since arriving in Baku from Qatar with her BP oil man husband, Dave, last September, she has got heavily involved with BARS, the Baku Animal Rescue Society.
Azeri Leila Akhundova is the founder of BARS who together with fellow country woman Zalina Li and another lady animal lover who goes by the nickname of ‘Grasshopper’, and now also Lorna, are devoted to improving the plight of mistreated and abandoned animals in the capital. Currently, they work out of a makeshift shelter close to Yana Dag, the fire mountain, with over 90 dogs in their care. While they own an ideal plot of land there, they are in desperate need of funds, AZN 40.000 to be precise, to build a proper, fully functioning and useful animal shelter. So far they have just about managed to scrape together enough money to build a perimeter fence. It’s a commendable start but leaves a long way to go yet, especially since any donations often have to be utilised to cover food and vets bills for the sorry little inmates, many of whom require immediate surgery and medication.
Lorna joined BARS because she felt that of all the similar local organisations, BARS was most in need of her. The Azeri ladies hold fundraising events throughout the year but Lorna is their link to the expat community and she is tireless in her efforts to raise money and improve the life of the animals in their care. It is no secret that under Islam, dogs are rarely viewed as loveable household pets and there are endless horror stories of dogs being beaten and mistreated but before we get too smug about our British dog loving credentials, let us remind ourselves that in the UK the RSPCA puts down 45.000 dogs every year, many for reasons of illness but still a shockingly large number because they are unwanted and can’t be rehomed. In Qatar, Lorna volunteered at QAWS, the Qatar Animal Welfare Society, and came across shocking conditions. Over 200 dogs were squeezed into small rusty cages with cold concrete floors, stiflingly hot and dusty in the summer and dank and freezing in the winter. The dogs were covered in ticks and suffered from anaemia as a consequence, a miserable existence. She rescued three dogs in Doha, one with a terrible eye condition who needs daily medication, and flew them to Amsterdam, then drove them herself from there to her home in West Sussex, near Brighton in the UK where they now live out their lives in comfort, roaming her large garden, sleeping in her armchairs and being much loved and cared for by specially employed pet sitters. ‘It’s easy’, she says. ‘it takes a few months to get their vaccines for entry into the UK and then Euros150 in ‘excess baggage’ fees to fly them over’.
Lorna quotes Mahatma Gandhi: ‘ The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ Here in Baku, she adopted her first dog after finding her as a terrified tiny emaciated puppy, She is now a happy fully grown dog, though still nervous of humans. Another Azerbaijan adoptee was found by the side of a motorway, struggling to cross the road and clearly had an injury which turned out to be a pelvis fractured in five places where she had been hit with a heavy blunt instrument. She recovered after major surgery but was left with such extensive nerve damage that she has permanently lost the use of her back leg. At Lorna’s she feels safe and loves her cuddles. A third pooch came from the BARS makeshift shelter last winter. A very sick little disabled dog, Lorna brought her home to die, loved and in comfort. Amazingly, she recovered and is now very much part of the family.
Lorna, by her own admission, spends her life caring for and giving medication to dogs. Some days, she is too busy to eat. Her last Christmas Day lunch consisted of a cup of coffee and bag of crisps because she had to drive out to the vets twice as a sick dog had pulled out its cannula. I ask Lorna if she has any veterinary knowledge herself; she tells me that all you need is common sense and empathy.
Given a choice, she prefers Baku over Doha. She likes the climate and is close to her Azeri fellow animal rescue friends who teach her Russian. She enjoys walking her dogs in the Botanic Gardens here but misses the wide open spaces of West Sussex where you can let dogs off the lead. She’s always scouring the land for injured or stray dogs and then it’s off to the vets. Occasionally, time permitting, she might attend a craft class at the BP Social Club or join a Pilates class but most of the time, if she isn’t caring for her beloved canines at BARS, she’s planning the next fundraiser. She rarely goes out in the evenings, whether here or in the UK, because she resents diverting any funds at all from the BARS cause. Her one aim is to have a proper shelter built on their land and to that effect, she’d like to stay in Baku for a long time to really make a difference here to animal welfare. Lorna is a naturally very attractive and well presented woman but it is a complete anathema to her how anyone can spend money on designer clothes or handbags when there is so much to be done that’s more worthwhile.
She tells me that she understands that not everyone may want the responsibility of a pet but feels that even if you can’t adopt or foster, you can still volunteer, donate, promote awareness. ‘We can all do something!’ she says most emphatically. So passionate and involved is she, that I am finding it difficult to find out where people might actually be able to donate to BARS. Donations are used for vets bills, medication and, of course, to progress the cause of the shelter. Lorna tells me that Zalina posts up on Facebook all donations and receipts and pictures of sick dogs to keep things transparent. There’s absolutely no doubt that these ladies are completely genuine and that every Gepik is bent double to help the animals, they are just too busy and involved in their cause to bother with a slick charity website.
Meanwhile, Lorna’s nine dogs in the UK and Azerbaijan, her ‘fur babies’ Kane, Mabel, Charlie, Ebony, Evie, Mandy, Quba, Alsu and Poppy have hit pay dirt. Their initially miserable lives have been transformed and they are now very well loved and living a life of luxury in West Sussex or Badamdar. Lorna Buckley quite simply wants this for all animals.
I looked at all the caged animals in the shelter……the cast-offs of human society. I saw in their eyes love and hope, fear and dread, sadness and betrayal. And I was angry. “God”, I said “this is terrible! Why don’t you do something?” God was silent for a moment and then he spoke softly. “I have done something”, he replied “I created you.” (Jim Willis)Since writing this post, BARS’ major sponsor has withdrawn and the shelter is in even more dire need of funds. If you would like to donate or can help in any other way, please contact Lorna on email@example.com or on +994 5134 90116 or Zalina Li on +994 5569 87703.